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Old June 26th, 2003, 02:28 PM   #1
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PS3 -- The New Computer Platform of 21st Century -- Part 2

A lot of things about the PSP remain unclear, though. The exact specifications of the system with regard to gaming haven't been revealed yet, although it's obvious from Kutaragi's statements both yesterday and at E3 that the console has been designed to provide high quality 3D graphics, easily surpassing the performance of the PSone.

Whether the system will play PSone games in some form remains open to speculation, though. Some have suggested that it may be possible to upload your PSone titles to the system, either using Memory Sticks or rewritable UMD discs (the 1.8GB Minidisc style storage media used by the device); however, sadly for the consumer, it's much more likely that Sony will opt to repackage select parts of the PSone back catalogue and sell them as PSP titles, in much the same way as Nintendo has done with SNES titles and the GBA.

What little we know about the design so far is promising, however, and shows how much Sony have learned about portable device design since the introduction of the original Walkman. The system will have a USB 2.0 port as standard, presumably enabling connection to your PC (or PS2/PSX/PS3...) so that you can upload ATRAC music files sourced from your own CD collection or from an online digital music store. A lithium-ion battery rather than awkward AA batteries (like the GBA SP) is sure to be a popular move, as is the inclusion of Memory Stick solid state storage as well as UMD optical discs.

The Memory Stick slot is made particularly interesting by the fact that the PSX also boasts one, and we expect the PS3 to replace proprietary memory cards entirely in favour of Memory Stick. Indeed, it's expected that Sony will shortly bring out an adapter enabling Memory Sticks to be used as memory devices on the PS2 (similar to Nintendo's forthcoming SD Card adapter for the Cube) - a logical move, since both devices use the MagicGate security and encryption system. The gameplay potential for moving data files between PSP and living room PlayStation devices is huge, and we'll be interested to see what developers come up with given this new ability.

Perhaps wisely, Sony have chosen not to follow down Nokia's path of integrating a mobile phone into the mix. Fundamentally, mobile phones and media players lie at opposite ends of the portable device spectrum in terms of design and ergonomics, and some of the criticism of the design of Nokia's N-Gage is entirely on the money - it's very hard to make a good game console that is also a good phone, so you generally end up with a product that is only average in both departments.

However, would anyone be surprised if the generation of Sony Ericsson phones which appears around the same time as the PSP supports a range of link-up functionality with the device? An end-to-end chain of connectivity, from Sony's online media servers to the media centre in your living room to the media player in your bag to the phone in your pocket - it's a wet dream for technologists, media companies and consumers alike, and Sony may be closer to realising it than anyone imagines.

The real loser here, it seems, is Nintendo - whose share price fell over 10 per cent in the hours after Sony announced the PSP at its press conference the day before E3, despite the fact that the Japanese launch of the device is over 18 months off and the specifications are entirely up in the air. "Sony only needs to clear its throat and Nintendo shakes in its boots these days," one analyst commented to us in Los Angeles - but despite the utter dominance of the Japanese sales charts enjoyed by GBA software and the massive unit sales of the console, given the option of a well designed and powerful music, movie and game player in your pocket, who will really have space for a GBA SP in their daily load-out?

PlayStation 3 - The Next Really Big Thing

As interesting as the PSX and PSP announcements and the thinking behind them may be, the real meat of Sony's plans is still a relatively well-kept secret. We know what will power the PlayStation 3, and we have a rough idea of just how powerful the system will be - but the release date, design and functionality of the device remain matters of pure speculation.

One thing that is clear is that PlayStation 3 is going to be the culmination of Sony's plans in this space to date. PSone was a stellar debut in the games market, PS2 built on that success and experimented with new technologies, PSX and PSP will expand the market into new spaces - but PlayStation 3 will be the real deal, standing on the shoulders of those giants and making a serious bid to own the space underneath the world's televisions.

So, what do we know about PS3 from a technical perspective? Well, for a start, it will be based on the Cell microprocessor, which is described as a "supercomputer on a chip" and has been co-developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony as a next-generation chip for consumer devices. Manufacturing of Cell processors is expected to start seriously over the coming 18 months, although Sony's new fabrication plant for the chip, located in the Nagasaki Prefecture of Japan, probably won't come online until 2006 at the earliest.

Cell is expected to power a range of devices, from mobile devices (PSP 2?) to home entertainment systems and set-top boxes. Although the hyperbole which SCE is wont to spin around all of its new technologies has led to a certain level of suspicion about Cell (and occasionally, cynical if somewhat unfounded accusations that the "mythical" processor is a red herring), the fact is that it's a fairly well understood piece of technology - no more mysterious than the PS2's "Emotion Engine" core, which for all the marketing spin surrounding it pre-launch, was little more than a relatively normal MIPS CPU with some extra instructions tacked on.

Cell, similarly, is a speedy piece of silicon which marks not so much a revolution as an evolution from the types of chip that the companies involved in its development have previously created. The really interesting thing about the chip is that it's been designed to operate in a cluster of similar devices, with an architecture that scales up to accomodate multiple Cell CPUs working in tandem. Of course, you can do that with standard PC chips - many large servers have multiple CPUs, and dual-processor PCs are becoming more popular in the enthusiast market (having been a core part of Apple's line-up for some time), but all the evidence suggests that Cell is uniquely capable in this respect.

PlayStation 3 is expected to sport multiple Cell chips - at least four, and perhaps as many as eight of the devices, quite possibly all nestled on the same piece of silicon. From a development perspective, the transition to writing PS3 code from PS2 code will be a huge one; this isn't a continuation of the same sort of architecture that the PS2 used at all, but like PS2, is a completely new platform for developers to learn. However, it should be noted that parallel processing is a fairly well understood branch of computer science, so while developers may struggle to get to grips with the system initially, it is unlikely to continue the PS2's reputation for being an incredibly tricky machine to develop on.

In terms of the marketing of the device, two different approaches exist for Sony. The company must decide whether the platform is going to be a single integrated device, bringing together both the media centre capabilities of the PSX and the hardcore games console sensibilities of the PS2. This seems the most likely outcome - a single PlayStation media centre device which plays games, movies and music, accesses broadband content and interfaces with portable devices (like PSP), mobile phones and any other relevant gadgets.

However, the company could equally decide to produce a family of PlayStation products, all inter-compatible and based on the same Cell architecture. A stripped down console-only version, similar to the PS2, would appeal to hardcore gamers; a fully specced media centre version would appeal to the same market that PSX targets. Other versions of the console might offer different subsets of the available functionality, depending on where Sony recognises demand for specific types of PlayStation device. In an ideal world for Sony executives, the question asked when you go to buy a new piece of consumer electronics will not be whether you want a PlayStation, but which PlayStation you want.

The question most people really want an answer to regards the launch date of the device, but this is one card Sony is playing very close to its chest indeed. A number of factors will affect this date, not least the availability of Cell - the processor is not expected to be manufactured in high volumes until 2006, although reasonable volumes (perhaps enough for a launch in Japan) may well be available in 2005.

Sony will almost certainly be beaten to market by Nintendo, but Nintendo has no aspirations to creating media centre devices, and as such can probably co-exist happily with its Japanese rival. Microsoft's position, on the other hand, is more difficult. Basing the Xbox on PC technology makes it very developer friendly, but it also cripples the company's options in terms of hardware and makes the manufacturing costs of the console extremely high throughout its lifespan. A difficult balancing act faces Microsoft with the Xbox 2. The PlayStation 3, like its predecessors, will inevitably be ahead of the PC hardware available at the time, so if Microsoft launches ahead of the PS3, it may well find itself underpowered compared with Sony's offering - but if it allows Sony to gain a headstart, then as with the current generation of console wars, more powerful hardware may not be enough to catch up.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 03:10 PM   #2
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Good talk. Ever since I first time saw amazing PS2 demo on Comdex 1999, I'm wondering what can be their next step.
As for PS mobile companion, I bet it to be based on PalmOS. I doubt Sony can make user-friendly multi-purpose OS by itself.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 03:19 PM   #3
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I think that PS3 may become the PC killer for home computers. PS2 can run Lynux.

Both Sony and IBM are trying to buy the Palm OS company. Sony bought Vegas Video and is moving forcefully into software development. They may dominate both hardware and software for the home market in the future. Microsoft is realizing this and the imoprtance of PS3, but can only play a catchup game with Sony on this one.

If Sony wins in the end, and I think it will, I just hope that their system does not crash as much as Windows and we will not have to buy updates every year that will be full of bugs.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 03:40 PM   #4
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Joseph, I hate to be Microsoft's advocate without being paid for that, but comparing quality of MS products to quality of other very respectable software companies, I see MS well ahead.
It's true Windows and MS Office have lots of bugs, but in comparison with others they are much much better. Just as an example, have you tried StarOffice or OpenOffice on your Linux station?
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Old June 26th, 2003, 04:35 PM   #5
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I'd love it if Sony ported Vegas over to the PS3 - but I have to agree with Vlad - the software sells the hardware, and Microsoft just has the edge on the software.

Despite all the attempts at getting into the content business, Sony is still a hardware company - which I think is mainly because they are good at making hardware.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 07:07 PM   #6
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Hey guys, Sory, I don't know much about computers, but does not MS Office work with Linux? All Sony would have to do is bundle in some cheap office bundle which for the average home user is enough. He wants to write letters, play games, surf the Internet, edit videos, make photo and music albums. If he wants MS Office, he could buy that. PS2 costs $200. If PS3 costs $300 and and a delux version with bunch of propriatery home software $500, and the software would cost Sony $50, there is $150 profit and the customer does not need to buy a PC that he'll have to update every couple of years with new OS.

If there is $100 profit for Sony per PS3 delux and they sell 50 million of them, it translates to 5 billion profit. If this thing begins to replace PC seriously and they sell 500 million of these, that makes it 50 billion. I'm not sure what Sony profits are, all the consumer electronics companies in Japan are losing $ more or less. 50 billion may be more than they made up to date from when they started after WW2.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 07:20 PM   #7
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Joseph, big companies don't really get that much profit per product sold as a small one person company or whatever would. It may only cost, lets say $100 to build a $200 product, that would be $100 profit, right? Not for a big company, they have to pay their workers, they have to pay to have everything shipped (to and from), they have to take care of legal stuff, they have to pay for their plants, buildings, much they have to pay for. So that $100 profit per item sold would really be more like $20 real profit. Of course them are all just made up numbers.
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Old June 26th, 2003, 07:31 PM   #8
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Sure, Alex, I agree. This naturally does not apply to Microsoft; I am talking here about Microsoft-like situation.
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Old June 27th, 2003, 01:27 AM   #9
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<<<-- Originally posted by Joseph George : I just hope that their system does not crash as much as Windows and we will not have to buy updates every year that will be full of bugs. -->>>

Joseph, I'm not a M$ apologist or anything, in fact, I only use Windows because that's what my apps run on, but all this anti-M$ crap is getting a bit tiresome. Everytime you mention M$ you have to throw in some pop at wee billy, or disinformation on the OS.

M$ is a crappy company, I know that as well as you. So is Apple for that matter. Most of us know it, we just don't need it kicked up all the time.
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Old April 5th, 2004, 01:11 PM   #10
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If they make the PS3 into a home computer, it will kill it. It needs to be a videogame console first and primarily. If it were a computer and ran Word (boring) and Vegas (can you imagine how limited it would be?) anyone who used it for such tasks would find it extremely limited compared to real computers. Real computers get better all the time. They have always been a step ahead of videogame consoles in terms of graphics.

Anyway, the PS2 has graphics that are FAR WORSE than the Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube. It doesn't even have built-in antialiasing. It is slooooow and since it is a Sony product, they are prone to break downs, which inflate Sony's numbers since consumers have to go out and buy new PS2's. Xbox and Gamecube don't seem to have this problem on the same scale that Sony does. This happened on the original PlayStation as well. I am looking forward to what Nintendo comes up with next. I want a videogame system, not a multimedia "hub". Bring on the games! I'll use Word on my Mac.
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Old April 8th, 2004, 03:11 PM   #11
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err anyway

Every console system out there has been trying to "catch up" or "one up" the Xbox since the day it hit the retail shelves if not before.

Money is not to be made on the consoles themselves, it's in the development, marketing, and sales of whatever you can plug into it (including games or software).

I can see why some people might speculate that it will replace the PC in certain situations. But, in all reality that's what everyone speculated about the Xbox.

Needless to say it wasn't true.
Needles to say...the evolution of consoles is nowhere near taking over the PC market in any way shape or form with anything currently in development (that is actually released or leaked to the press).

My son and his friends have found that utilizing a hacked Xbox is the way of the future to watch DVD's, music videos, listen to music, etc. in their cars (they used to utilize a PS2 prior to Xbox).

FYI, the biggest single thing that led them down this path is that a console boots faster than a PC, and it doesn't require a keyboard(which make sense if you turn your car off and on frequently).
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